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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - LGBTIQ progress questioned

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Volunteers arrange signs for an event to celebrate LGBTIQ rights in the Kingdom’s Takeo province last week. Sahiba Chawdhary

LGBTIQ progress questioned

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith presided over a meeting on LGBTIQ pride on Wednesday, highlighting the community’s “legal rights”, the extent of which was disputed by activists yesterday.

The statement was posted by government newswire AKP, which also quoted last year’s statement from government spokesman Phay Siphan, who said “Cambodian society does not discriminate against LGBTIQ people . . . no laws discriminate against them”.

Cambodian Pride 2017 kicked off on May 12 and will feature various initiatives, events, and exhibitions until May 22.

Say Seaklay, an advocacy officer at Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) who goes by “Pipi” and is himself a transgender man, said the government’s characterisation of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) rights was not fully accurate.

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Volunteers arrange signs for an event to celebrate LGBTQI rights in the Kingdom's Takeo province last week. Sahiba Chawdhary

Although “there’s no law mentioned against LGBT”, he said, local authorities still have the discretion to deny transgender and gay couples the right to marry or adopt.

“It’s not a positive environment at the university. Students saw me in a different way and teachers treated me different,” Pipi said, adding that he was removed from his internship programme at a social work NGO because of his gender identity.

Pipi also said the inability to get hormone treatment in Cambodia is extremely dangerous for the trans community, because they are forced to buy medical supplies online or from unlicensed distributors.

But worst of all, Pipi said, he and many others frequently face rejection from their own families.

“There are many problems still in terms of family discrimination and exclusion . . . For the mental health, it’s not very good. We live in an environment with many negative reactions,” he said.

Nuon Sidara, the sexual orientation and gender identity project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the LGBTIQ community is legally “invisible”.

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LGBT community members wait for a concert to celebrate Pride Week in Phnom Penh. Charlotte Pert

“The widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ people, which contravenes international human rights law, is not specifically addressed by any Cambodian law,” he said.

Sidara said transgender people are not legally recognised by their self-defined gender, and the Constitution “currently states that marriage is between a husband and a wife”.

Siphan, however, stood by his comments yesterday, reiterating that the law does not explicitly discriminate against the LGBTIQ community.

“It’s never enough,” he said when asked if the law should specifically protect that marginalised group. “If they want more than that they have to go talk to lawmakers,” he added.

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